The Winnipeg Jets had a very successful season in 2018-19, making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second seed in the Central Division. Unfortunately for the Jets, they had to meet the eventual Stanley Cup champions, St. Louis Blues, in the first round of the post-season. Several key players did not step up in the series, which put more pressure on the rest of the lineup to produce. In fact, there were two players that stood out for the wrong reasons. Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine need to bounce back this season if the Jets hope to make any noise during their current Stanley Cup window.
Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers Need to Rebound
2018-19 Stats: 62 GP, 21 G, 16 A, 37 PTS
On a team with plenty of offensive power, Ehlers kind of faded into the background last season. Posting the lowest point total in his career, he did not look like the same player that played for the Winnipeg Jets in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons when he posted 64 and 60 points respectively. Granted he was out of the lineup for over a month after a collision with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But when you are playing with two of the best players on the team in Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, you should be recording more than 37 points.
The lack of production and the need for cap space has precipitated trade rumors for the young forward. However, the Jets should not be giving up on Ehlers just yet. He still has a reasonable contract at $6 million average annual value (AAV) and he is only 23 years old. Despite the struggles, he did score 21 goals and already has three 20+ goal seasons on his resume. There are a lot of teams that would welcome that type of consistent goal production.
However, Ehlers is going to have to do more this coming season to help the Jets take the next step. This will be paramount when the playoffs come around again. He produced a big fat zero and was largely invisible in the six-game series loss to the Blues. He will have to be more of a presence in the future, especially if he’s playing on the top line again. He’s just too talented of a player to not be a factor in the important games.
2018-19 Stats: 82 GP, 30 G, 20 A, 50 PTS
Even though he scored 30 goals, Laine did not have the best season. Just like Ehlers, he had the worst goal total of his career. Throw in the fact that he scored 24 of those 30 before the calendar turned over to 2019, that it is not nearly good enough production for a supposed superstar in the NHL. During the 2019 slump, he also went through two double-digit goalless droughts of 12 and 15 games. Again, not good enough.
If the Jets hope to be successful in 2019-20, Laine has got to be better, period. They need him to return to the form that scored 44 goals during the 2017-18 season and was lethal on every power play he was on. If he doesn’t, the Jets will have a hard time keeping up in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
The first order of business, however, is re-signing Laine to a long term contract. As of now, there is no progress on that front. He has also complicated matters by making confusing comments about not being sure about returning to Winnipeg. If this drags on into training camp, the Jets risk a hold out similar to William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs. That negotiation took until Dec 1 to get resolved. If that happens, it would definitely impact the Jets’ playoff hopes.
Will Laine and Ehlers Bounce Back?
If the contract issues get resolved with Laine, he will surely score 30 goals or more again. However, he cannot go into the same slumps he did in 2018-19. The Jets need him to be a superstar and a difference-maker on the roster. If he’s not, they will be in a struggle for their playoff lives.
Ehlers, on the other hand, has never been a huge point producer even on a top line. He will continue to be a 20 goal scorer, but not much of an assist man. The Jets need more from him, especially when he’s on a line with two great playmakers. Realistically, he should be scoring 25-30 goals with them, not struggling to get 20.
In the end, the Jets need contributions from all their offensive weapons. With the departures of offensive defensemen Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, the defense will not be helping out in that regard. So Ehlers and Laine will need to take the reigns and help pull the wagon, even more, this coming season.